A Leggett school student surveyed the pile of new winter coats and chose the puffy pink one.
An Akron firefighter helped Yesnia Alvarado put on the coat, and she hugged it to her body.
With a big smile, the 6-year-old declared: “I like the pink. Comfy!”
Yesnia was among about 90 Leggett kindergartners who got coats Thursday from Akron firefighters.
The effort was part of a new national program, called Firefighters Coats for Kids, in which firefighters raise money and partner with local companies to cover the cost of new coats for low-income students in their communities. The Akron event was the first in Ohio.
“We want you guys to have a good Christmas,” firefighter Matt Coleman, who organized the event held in the school’s gymnasium, told the students.
Coleman said students need a good winter coat in Ohio because of the cold weather and not having one can be a barrier to education, with students potentially not going to school or becoming ill. He said a struggling family might have to choose between shelter, food and clothing.
“Next year, when these don’t fit, we want you to share the tradition and give your coat to another kid who needs one,” Coleman told the students.
“Merry Christmas!” the students responded together, unprompted.
Akron firefighters partnered with TLT-Babcock, Leitner Fabrication and Tansations to help pay for the coats, along with a bouncy house and ice cream with fixings. The kids also had the chance to climb on fire engines and ambulances in the parking lot of the school on East Thornton Street.
Leggett has been getting a lot of love lately, with Leadership Akron adopting the school and delivering backpacks filled with toys, books, crayons, hats, gloves and other goodies last week.
“We are truly blessed — more than I could ever imagine,” Principal Philomena Vincente said.
Vincente said one student told her, “This is better than Christmas today,” while another said, “I’m special with my new coat!”
Coleman is hoping the program can be expanded in Akron next year, with more businesses contributing enough to provide coats for an entire school.
“I hope this inspires other businesses to be part of this next year,” he said. “I’m hoping we can fill the gym.”
Renee Koerner, a spokeswoman for Firefighters Coats for Kids, which is based in Chadds Ford, Pa., was pleased to have Akron join in the program. She’s hoping the effort, which started in August, will catch on in other cities in Ohio and across the country.
The program, which is supported by the International Association of Firefighters, provided coats to 23,000 children in 15 states this year.
“There’s the possibility for this to become very, very big,” she said.
The coats program is a division of the nonprofit Operation Warm. For more information on the program, visit http://operationwarm.org/. Akron-area businesses interested in helping with the local effort may call the fire union at 330-794-8547. If no one answers, they are asked to leave a message and a union official will return the call, Coleman said.